JDI IN THE NEWS - 2012

Unsafe Behind Bars

By Editorial Board, New York Times
May 28, 2012

After a three-year delay, the Justice Department has finally issued mandatory rape prevention policies for federal prisons and state correctional institutions that receive federal dollars. The new rules, which were given the force of an executive order, are a clear improvement over a draft version. If monitored and enforced, they could help curb the assaults that are shamefully endemic to the corrections system.

The new rules coincide with the release of a frightening study from the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which found that nearly 10 percent of former state prisoners said they had been sexually victimized during their most recent confinement. That is more than double the percentage found in a previous Bureau of Justice Statistics study released in 2010.

The rules say that all facilities must adopt zero-tolerance policies. And they include detailed requirements for prisons to investigate and report all allegations of sexual attack and improve medical and mental health care for victims. They also require that each correctional facility’s rape prevention programs be reviewed once every three years by outside auditors certified by the Justice Department. And the rules bar correctional agencies from imposing a deadline for inmates to report an allegation. Victims are typically traumatized by an attack and may take days or even months to gather the courage to speak out.

Unfortunately, the rules only discourage -- but do not bar -- the placement of youths in adult facilities, where they are at far greater risk of being sexually assaulted. Congress should end this practice once and for all. Until that happens, the new rules will better protect young people by requiring that they be housed separately from adults, prohibiting contact with adults in common areas and limiting the use of solitary confinement for young people, who are more vulnerable to suicide when left alone.

A state whose governor does not fully comply with the rules could lose 5 percent of any Department of Justice grant funds for prisons. If humanity is not enough to get prison systems to change their policies, maybe that penalty will work. Rape must not be part of a prison sentence.

Original post: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/opinion/unsafe-behind-bars.html